One of the dangers of asking multiple writers to create copy for one client is losing the client’s voice. Without a copy style guide, one person could write with a matter-of-fact approach. Another could prefer clever wordplay. A third writer might make a point with snark.
The reader is left confused and suspicious, which is pretty much the opposite of what the client wants.
But if writers use a copy style guide, readers no longer see a cobbled together mish-mash of messages. They see a polished and recognizable brand—one that offers a sound personality.
Once the copy style guide is created and shared with all writers and editors, the team has a clear understanding of the brand voice. The results offer consistent brand messaging, fewer rewrites, and a far better audience experience.
To create an effective copy style guide, you’ll need your client’s involvement. Ask them to brainstorm these kinds of questions:
Who is our typical customer?
What problem does our customer have that our brand solves?
How do we see ourselves? Are we the wise guru? Friendly gal pal? Sarcastic curmudgeon? Expert thought leader?
What does our brand value?
How are we different from our competition?
What words do and don’t describe our company? For example, we’re cool but not silly. We’re serious but not boring. We’re experts but not know-it-alls.
It's also important to identify the client's brand voice and use it consistently in all your content.
Next, you’ll mine that information from your client for patterns and other nuggets that you can compile into a copy style guide.
It can be a simple one-page document or part of a more elaborate branding guide. But at minimum it should include the following:
Company mission. Briefly describe who they are and what they do. Keeping that message readily accessible is important, especially for writers who have multiple clients.
Customer persona. Create an audience persona, including a name and background story, to represent the client’s target readers. This is the person you’ll be writing about and for.
Voice and tone. Use the client’s input above to determine the primary voice and tone. Do they want to be seen as chatty, flirty, casual, professional, quirky, approachable, trendy, classic, sensual, gossipy, or smart? Choices are endless here, but limit yourself to just a few clear adjectives to keep the messages consistent.
Grammar and punctuation. Spell out specifics regarding issues such as the Oxford comma, abbreviations, and emojis. Also, note any quirks related to the company’s name and industry.
Examples. Include a lengthy section for “Do this and not that” examples to clearly illustrate the targeted voice. Pull wording from competitors and convert it into your client’s preferred language. List words or phrases not to use along with suitable alternatives.
Your copy style guide can’t cover every possible scenario, so choose a backup style guide that will be used as the go-to authority for everything else. Popular style guides include The Chicago Manual of Style and the Associated Press Stylebook. Check out the BuzzFeed Style Guide, a long list of writing guidelines with a distinctive brand voice.
This process won’t necessarily be a one-time event. The brand might evolve as more products are introduced or the target market changes or different managers provide input. So keep the communication open, ask for feedback, and update accordingly.
As your business grows, you may find yourself working with a team of multiple writers. To keep the brand voice of your client consistent from writer to writer, you should develop a copy style guide. A consistent voice is important for maintaining an audience's trust.
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